Sleep Away Camp :: Letting Go To Let Them Grow

Sleep Away Camp :: Letting Go To Let Them Grow

During the pandemic years, my whole family got used to being all together, all the time. I’ve always worked from home, so I often joked that everyone invaded MY space when the whole world quarantined. But then it was time to go back into the world and enter the new normal. Just sending my only child back to school was difficult. It gave me so much less influence (ok, control) over his daily activities and choices and it was scary. 

Last summer, he decided he wanted to go to a sleep away camp. My ten-year old who was afraid of bugs, addicted to YouTube, and still needed to be reminded five times a day about personal hygiene. Was I ready to ship him off into the wilderness for an entire week? He seemed so young and inexperienced in the world for this to work. 

However, this camp promised to form the future leaders of New Orleans, to bring kids out of their comfort zones and make them comfortable with being uncomfortable. The leaders said that our kids would come back more confident and more independent than ever before. So, I let go of my fear and doubt and dropped him off at the bus with hope and faith in the camp organizers. 

I waited all week for the camp to call saying that he wanted to come home. It was the longest five days of my life. I had all these big plans for my child free week but spent most of my time refreshing the Camp App to see if I could spot him in a picture. 

Imagine my shock when we arrived in Wiggins, MS to pick him up and there he was, covered head-to-toe in mosquito bites, wearing a crocheted lanyard that he made himself, and carrying a giant hiking stick that he had whittled to make a handle. (I had to Google whittling.) 

Little boy at camo with hiking stick.

Being a city girl myself, I was horrified to find out that there had been no electricity in the cabins, which, in July in Mississippi, sounds horribly miserable to me. But the first thing he said to me was: “Next year, I need to bring a head lamp for reading at night. And maybe a fan.” 

I asked him for the top five reasons kids should consider sleep away camp and he let me share them here: 

Top Five Reasons to Try Sleep Away Camp:

5. If you don’t like bugs, you gotta learn to deal with it.

4. You get to test your own strengths.

3. You get to try new things.

2. It makes you more independent.

  1. It’s fun!

This year, he’s going back to sleep away camp for two weeks. I have much less anxiety this year, knowing that he really doesn’t need his mom around 24/7, that he can be trusted to make his own choices, and that he has confidence in his own decisions. 

He will have more activities to choose from during these two weeks, will get to reconnect with his friends, and hopefully, will learn what it means to be simultaneously scared and brave, independent and but also dependent on the experience of others. I just hope that he’ll remember to use bug spray. 

Stephanie Davi-McNeely
Stephanie Davi McNeely has been in and around the nonprofit fundraising space for nearly twenty years. She oversees development and strategic partnerships, for the ACE Mentor Program of America, a national nonprofit mentoring program based in Philadelphia. There she is responsible for corporate and individual fundraising initiatives, as well as the growth and development of national partnerships with design and construction firms. In her spare time, she plays mom’s league softball, watches her son play soccer, takes French class through the Alliance, and serves as the First Lady of the University of Holy Cross in Algiers. She resides in New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband and 11-year-old son.


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